Beverly’s favorite birding resource is a free phone app called Merlin Bird ID. If you’re out birdwatching and see something you don’t recognize, just answer five simple questions and Merlin will come up with a list of photos that might be your bird. Produced by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the app puts 8,000 photos, 3,000 audio recordings and descriptions of every bird in North America right into the palm of your hand.
For complete details on getting Merlin Bird ID and a how-to video, click here.
eBird is an app and a website, also produced by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, that is absolutely amazing. It began with a simple idea — that every birdwatcher, from Day One, has unique knowledge and experience. Here’s the explanation from the website: eBird’s goal is to gather birdwatchers’ information in the form of checklists of birds, archive it, and freely share it to power new data-driven approaches to science, conservation and education.
eBird’s tools make birding way more fun. Our favorite part is the free eBird app that “knows exactly where you are” using your phone’s geolocation. The app then uses other birders’ recent reports from nearby locations, coupled with typical bird distributions, to tell you which birds you’re “most likely” or “somewhat likely” to see where you are in real time. Or you can use the app to tell you where to go. Your sighting lists are stored in eBird’s cloud, and you can go back years to remember what you saw and where. It’s beyond awesome. Click here.
The Audubon Society’s website is rich in free resources for birders and also for anyone interested in conservation and climate change. There’s a lot to explore, but here’s an overview of what Audubon offers online:
In the site’s section called Guide to North American Birds (click here), you can search for any bird in North America to get a bucket-load of information, gorgeous photographs and sketches that help you identify and learn about the bird’s habitat, behavior and conservation status.
“Birding,” (click here), is the section for birding tips in the field; guides to buying binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras; suggestions for better bird photography, etc. These tips will be most useful for beginners to advanced-beginners.
At the bottom of every page of the website, you can sign up for Audubon’s monthly Wingspan email newsletter. Just know you’ll get emailed many pleas for donations as well as the short, snappy and informative articles about birds.
Audubon also has lots of information on birds and climate change (click here). Audubon’s findings classify 314 species — nearly half of all North American birds — as severely threatened by climate change. The site has interactive maps to show how each of these at-risk birds’ potential ranges could expand, contract, or shift in both summer and winter as the Earth’s climate changes. There’s also a geographical search to see how climate could affect birds near you. You can search by state or province or by species – very specific, quick and easy-to-use maps and charts.
Birds of North America
This general guidebook by the American Museum of Natural History comes in two volumes — the Eastern or Western regions. We’re partial to this book because it uses color photographs to ID the birds rather than the drawings found in most other guides. “Birds of North America” is published by DK (Dorling Kindersley), and has the same quick-fact and graphics format that the publisher uses for its popular travel guides. Here’s the Amazon link.
The Warbler Guide
By Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, (Princeton University Press, 2015)
There are a lot of warblers, and they’re tiny and fast. Unless you get lucky during the spring migration when warblers are too busy singing and eating to hide, figuring out which warbler you saw can seem impossible. Enter “The Warbler Guide,” with at-a-glance photo comparison charts and nearly every other photo that can help. It’s available in many park and National Wildlife Refuge gift shops, but here’s the Amazon link.
There’s also a phone app version of The Warbler Guide that costs $12.99. It includes all of the information and photos in the book but adds bird songs and calls, lots of filters and a 3D function that lets you rotate the bird and see it from all angles. (You can also compare two birds in the 3D view.)
The Audubon Society recruited experts at the at 2017 North American Ornithological Conference to test more than 30 pairs of binoculars from 11 companies under a range of conditions. The information may be a bit outdated, but this is the best comparison and specific recommendations we’ve found. The top binoculars are broken into price categories ranging from less than $200 to over $2,500. (These are the manufacturer list prices, but as Audubon notes, you’ll likely find cheaper prices online and during store sales.)
Once you’ve honed in on your top choices, try them out at a bricks and mortar store. However, finding a store nearby with all the brands on display could be a challenge. Save time by calling in advance.
We’d love to hear suggestions on favorite birding sites and apps, the places you go for guidance, the tips you have for fellow birders. Email your thoughts and we’ll post them here with your name and hometown, so please be sure to include both.